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July 24, 2007

Connecting the Dot: Election Commissioners Are Way Too Politically Entwined

One way in which the Tennessee Democratic Party has managed to retain majority status* in the General Assembly for eons surely has to be through control of some 95 county election commissions. Tennessee law provides that the majority party holds three of five seats on the State Election Commission; in turn, this body officially chooses the members of each county election commission, but in reality that is done with much input from that county's legislative delegation. Therefore, the Legislature directly and indirectly chooses every election commissioner in the state, and the majority party stacks each one in favor of itself.

The fact that our state's code is thoroughly woven with references to two specific exactly two [edited due to comments here, here, and here] political parties is evidence that the parties themselves act like a single, two-pronged special interest group, one that is more powerful than any labor union or trade association could hope to be. And furthermore, when one party is able to establish dominance for a period quite a bit longer than a lifespan, the probability factor for un-democratic malfeasance nears 1 (as in 100%).

(*Yes, the GOP briefly held a majority in the state Senate, and Ron Ramsey is Speaker and Lieutenant Governor; however, Sen. Micheal Williams' departure from the GOP puts the upper house at 16-16-1, which, in light of history, is hardly a firm hold; and Sen. Rosalind Kurita, a Democrat, holds the Speaker Pro Tem spot. In essence, the Democrats continue to control the General Assembly.)

Former Hamilton County Board of Education member and convicted bribery bagman Charles Love was caught on tape describing to an undercover FBI agent how some of this works. As he was prepping the man he thought was from E-cycle, whom we now know was Agent Carson, for an upcoming meeting at Ward Crutchfield's office, Love had this to say:

Linda's [Johnson, Crutchfield's aide and campaign manager] on the election commission[,] by the way. […] The election commissioner, commission determines where you vote, ah the location of the voting sites. Ahh, they put together the ballots. Ah, they draw the precincts up. I mean they're very powerful. And to have that kind of person on, who's working with you…gives you a tremendous amount of leverage.

[Emphasis mine.]

Carson then asks if the position is elected or appointed. "It's an appointed position," says Love.

"By who [sic]?"

"Ward Crutchfield." Laughter ensues.

(By the way, reading these transcripts erases any and all doubt in my mind with regard to the "entrapment" defense that some Waltzers, and their apologists, feebly tried to put on.)

However, the story does not end there. True, Linda Johnson is no longer a Hamilton County Election Commissioner. Good, right? We don't need such a person drawing up precincts, or passing dirty money around the state to aid a corrupt party's* quest for eternal power. But look who her replacement is. Dot Eddington, who sits on the commission and was named chair a few months ago, is Linda Johnson's sister.

Now, just like we didn't want to assume that Harold Ford, Jr. was a bad man simply because pretty much the rest of his family is crooked, I don't mean to imply anything about Ms. Eddington here. That would not be right, and I want to be perfectly clear on that. But do you mean to tell me that, out of all the good Democrats in this county, they couldn't look a little further than Linda Johnson's immediate family? That just doesn't sound right, and I urge each of you to keep yourselves informed as to this commission's every move. Almost every one of them, including the two Republicans, has served in a chief role on a political campaign. A former member, Wes Kliner, did so as well, but now regrets it, apparently, as he authored legislation that would ban the practice. Election commissioners should not be mixed up in re-electing the people that got them the jobs (nor anyone else, in my opinion).

(*Now, hold on, my progressive Democrat friends: I'm talking, and I think you know this, about the "good ol' boy" and "machine" Democrats of the Crump/Ford/Naifeh/Wilder/Crutchfield ilk. Do not treat this as an endorsement of the Grand Old Party, but rather an independent's view of all corruption as intolerable.)

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Elections | By joe lance | 08:20 AM